Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Thoughts on Gun Control

WARNING: This post contains a graphic description of the results of gun violence.

Let's just get this out here:  I am adamantly anti-violence and, therefore, anti-gun. If you want to know why, keep reading.

I grew up in the South, where hunting and fishing is still a way of life, and my grandfather sometimes brought us quail or deer meat to cook for Sunday supper. But I have never understood why regular citizens need to own guns of any kind, particularly automatic weapons.

The first time I shot a gun was when I was in high school in Nashville, Tenn. My boyfriend at the time, who liked to hunt, set up target practice in his backyard one weekend. We shot beer cans with a .22 rifle. It was easy enough to handle the gun and I had no problem hitting the targets, but it never became a hobby. I actually joined my boyfriend on a hunting trip in the early 1990's. We spent several hours tromping through the woods in rural middle Tennessee, where I managed to fire one round from a 12 gauge shotgun in the direction of a deer and almost ended up on my ass due to the recoil. Needless to say, I missed the deer, but our hunting party did bag a rabbit, whose bloody, still-warm carcass I was forced to carry in my backpack for the remainder of the outing.

I didn't fire another gun until last year, when I was traveling in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, after touring many of the war-ravaged sites of Mostar, my guide, who was shot twice during the 1990's Balkan conflicts, took me to an abandoned bunker where we had target practice with an air rifle. I hit the beer can on my first try from about 30 feet away.

I have seen first-hand the effects of a fatal gunshot wound. When I was in college, I worked 12-hour shifts as a firefighter and first responder. We would get dispatched for medical calls and almost always arrived on the scene before the ambulance. I have extricated people from mangled cars using the Jaws of Life, done CPR on an elderly man, and straddled a large and surprisingly strong 10-year-old girl who was in diabetic shock. But the patients that haunt me the most are the young man who committed suicide at home by putting a gun in his mouth, and the clerk who was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun at close range during a convenience store robbery.

The clerk was still alive when we loaded him in the ambulance and I rode with him to the hospital, manually administering oxygen while an EMT took his vitals and applied pressure to the gaping wound. They rushed him into surgery but he was dead within minutes. I will never forget the helpless feeling of knowing there was nothing I could do for this man, the fear in his eyes and his desperate attempts to say something, the fragments of his insides scattered throughout the large pool of blood on the floor, the x-ray the nurse shared with me that showed the shotgun pellets had dispersed throughout his entire torso from neck to waist.

While I was working for the fire department, I started dating a coworker. Dan was much older than me and was a career firefighter for the City of Chattanooga. Our relationship raised plenty of eyebrows, but, over time, most people came to accept it even if they didn't understand it. The one person who couldn't tolerate it was Dan's ex-girlfriend, who still lived in the home he owned. When Dan stopped by the house one day to pick up some personal items, she flew into a rage and shot him in the stomach. I heard the call go out over my police scanner and rushed to the scene, making it there in time to ride with him in the ambulance. Dan was extremely lucky; the bullet enter his abdomen at an angle and lodged itself in a layer of fat, missing his vital organs. Still, the trauma of getting shot took many years for both of us to overcome.

When I started dating my now-husband Greg in 2009, he owned a GLOCK 22 semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun, which he legally carried in the glove compartment of his Prius. His reason for having the weapon: self-defense. I told him that the gun was a deal-breaker for me. Thankfully, he chose me over the GLOCK.

So here we are in 2018. I have not been directly affected by gun violence for almost 20 years, but I have experienced the horrors of other forms of terrorism, like living in New York City during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Yet no matter how much I travel or how much I try to limit my exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, I still cannot avoid the almost constant reports of mass shootings that continue to occur in the United States and the fact that, in spite of the number of innocent people that have been killed as a result of this unnecessary violence, nothing has been done to reduce the chances of it happening again and again and again.

I did some research on the types of venues where mass shootings (generally defined as when a gunman kills four or more people) have occurred in the United States in the past decade. In no particular order, these are some of the locations:

  • residences
  • schools
  • places of worship
  • office buildings
  • shopping malls
  • parking lots
  • entertainment venues
  • restaurants
  • military bases
  • community centers
  • nursing homes

If I change "mass" to multiple i.e. more than one person killed, then I can include every other type of public or private space in the U.S.: city streets, transit vehicles, post offices, supermarkets, daycare facilities, etc. Which means that, whether you are inside your home, at work, or out in public going about your day-to-day activities, you are at risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus becoming the next victim of gun violence.

What is notably missing from this list? Attacks on members of the federal government. With the exception of two incidents, the January 2011 shooting of a congresswoman and eighteen others during a constituent meeting in Arizona, and the June 2017 shooting of a congressman and three others during baseball practice in Virginia, there have been no mass shootings involving elected or appointed members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of the United States government.

The scope of the Second Amendment has been manipulated by certain parties to make it fit their definition of civil rights, specifically, the right to bear arms. But who in the U.S. really needs to be armed? Only our military and our police forces and perhaps people who live in rural areas who need to defend themselves or their livestock against predatory animals. At the very least, any type of semi-automatic or automatic weapon or device that enables a firearm to be modified from its original design should be banned for possession, sale, or use by anyone who is not an active member of our military and police. You do not need an automatic weapon for hunting and you certainly won't need it for self defense as a complete ban, which would require all current gun owners to turn in their weapons and ammunition, would thus eliminate the threat which many people use as their excuse for owning a gun in the first place.

It's well past time that we rewrite the law, not just state by state, but at a federal level. Sadly, it appears that nothing will change until a mass shooting occurs in the building where those laws are made in Washington, D.C. When members of Congress are forced to watch as their fellow senators and elected representatives are gunned down en masse, when they experience the effects of gun violence firsthand, only then will they have the courage to stand up to the NRA and to pass immediate legislation that will stop this madness. Of course, I am not advocating for such an attack, but rather trying to understand how much worse things have to get before our government will take action.

Of course, there will still be people who intend to do harm to others. And mental illness is a serious problem which we are not addressing adequately enough. There will still be terrorist incidents involving bombs, poisonings, vehicles, and cyber attacks. But imagine a United States without guns. If you really want to kill someone in particular, you will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat, or to use a tool like a knife, a baseball bat, or some other handheld weapon that forces you to be in close proximity and to look your victim in the eye. Archery may enjoy a resurgence in popularity, but at least the odds of someone committing mass murder by bow and arrow are exceedingly low.